New International Version (NIV)
The Holy Spirit Comes at Pentecost
2 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues[a] as the Spirit enabled them.
I have a confession to make. I have had a love hate relationship with the term “Pentecostal” for most of my adult life. My spirituality was formed in a wonderful group of people who called themselves Pentecostal. By that, our group meant that we were the true church who traced our heritage back to this cataclysmic event on the day of Pentecost and the power of Pentecost was still alive and active in our group exclusively as evidenced by speaking in tongues, miracles, signs, and wonders.
Admittedly, there is something nice about belonging to the right group. I can remember thinking that of all of the families I could have been born into, I was just fortunate enough to be born into one that belonged to the “right” church. As I grew in my faith, this definition of Pentecost became less satisfactory. First, it became harder to believe that heaven was as small as our group claimed and this sweeping up of the masses into our denomination never seemed to happen. Instead of bringing “the whole gospel to the whole world” as our motto claimed, we seemed to be more resistant to the world and especially resistant to other churches-even those who also claimed to be Pentecostal but weren’t a part of our group.
When I left my denomination I’m not proud to admit that I was a bit ashamed of the term Pentecostal. In 1993 I came to pastor a church called First Pentecostal Church which was no longer part of our denomination, but they had kept the name. One of my first orders of business was to change the name of the church to Christ Community Church. That is a decision I don’t regret, but I do regret my shame about the word Pentecostal.
The feast of Pentecost was celebrated thousands of years before this explosion of the New Testament church that happened in Acts 2. Pentecost was a celebration of the summer wheat harvest that was to occur 7 weeks after the second day of Passover. It is therefore 50 days after Passover and that is why it has the term Pentecost. This was a celebration of the first fruits of the summer harvest and was a joyous occasion. Because it occurred at the end of Passover it acquired the term “latter first fruits.” The Jews also believe that Pentecost was the exact time that the Law was given to Moses. How appropriate that both Judaism and Christianity can both claim Pentecost as the birth of their faith.
The differences between the Day of Pentecost and what happened when the law was given on Mt. Carmel was striking. The giving of the law marked the Jews as God’s exclusive people set apart for Him. The Acts 2 version is inclusive and included people from many countries. Mt Carmel suggests that only the Jews can be saved, but in Acts 2 we learn that Pentecost is available to everyone. Men, women, servants, leaders, old and young. In fact, Pentecost was the vehicle through which the gospel would be spread to then entire world including the Gentiles. The section ends by saying that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
When I understand Pentecost in this light, I am quite proud of the term. To be Pentecostal means to be inclusive. It boggles the mind to call oneself Pentecostal and hold racial prejudice or religious prejudice against fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. To be a believer in Christ who has been freed from their sins is to be Pentecostal. We are the latter first fruits from God’s harvest.
Pentecost is not about the name that is on one’s church sign, but it’s about the name of Jesus written on the hearts of every believer. When I properly understand the term, I am Pentecostal and proud of it!